Private Manning Goes to Washington

Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning remains in a high security US Military Prison on a 35-year sentence for passing nearly a quarter of a million classified files to Wikileaks in 2010. This play centres on the relationship between Aaron Swartz, a Manning supporter, computer programmer, and hacktivist, and his childhood (now estranged) friend, Billy. Swartz, played by Matt Steiner, is a stereotypical manic computer nerd, complete with black t-shirt, cargo shorts, and fizzy drink addiction. Billy, played by E. James Ford, is a harder to pin down and, in many respects, more awkward character. He is older than Swartz and carries with him both guilt and anger about a childhood incident in which Billy nearly murdered Swartz. It is partly because of this guilt that Billy reluctantly yields to Swartz’s request that Billy help him write a play about a fictional meeting between President Obama and Chelsea Manning on January 19th, 2017, the evening before Obama will leave office and when Presidential pardons are traditionally granted.

An extremely interesting play

This is a play that analyses the behaviour of the Obama administration towards whistleblowers and activists like Manning and Swartz. It has a clear political purpose, with information on a petition for Chelsea Manning being handed out before the show and postcards (for audience members to write to Manning with) being handed out afterwards. The play does engage with the arguments against Manning’s behaviour and for her imprisonment, and in this case it is Billy who is the devil’s advocate.

The play’s climax is the play within a play about a short meeting between Obama and Manning. As an imagining of Obama, one of the best known personalities on the planet, this scene falls short and is a disappointment compared to the rest of the show. As a result, the debates over the morals of open information and whistleblowing between Billy and Swartz are more interesting than the eventual showdown between Obama and Manning. The acting is good and the play in general avoids lazy left-wing condemnation of the United States, though it is uniformly sympathetic to Manning, and prefers instead to pitch an appeal to Obama’s better nature. It is certainly an extremely interesting play, done well, and only occasionally falls down at points dramatically. 

Reviews by Joseph Spencer

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

A Terrified Soul – Macbeth

Laughing Horse @ Finnegan's Wake

Ivor Dembina: Old Jewish Jokes

theSpace on Niddry St

Private Manning Goes to Washington

Sweet Grassmarket

In Defence of Hitler!

Laughing Horse @ Bar 50

Erich McElroy’s (US) Electile Dysfunction

Pleasance Courtyard

Phil Jerrod: Hypocrite


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Private Manning Goes to Washington is a new play imagining a secret meeting between US President Barack Obama and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, told through the eyes of hacktivist Aaron Swartz. The play explores the parallel contributions of these two activists while exposing the agonising and sometimes deadly human consequences of the Obama Administration’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers, hackers, and the media. The Representatives is a New York-based theatre company known for producing hyper-intimate, socially relevant theatrical experiences.

Most Popular See More

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £13.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £31.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £29.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £21.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets